Wednesday, July 11, 2001

Jacobsberg, Sweden

Friends: I'm closing in on Stockholm, taking advantage of a suburban library before I finish off the last few miles of my circuit of Scandinavia. Tonight I will sleep in doors for the first time in forty nights. My final night of camping last night may have been my best. There was such a thick layer of pine needles on the forest floor I hardly needed my sleeping pad. And the pine needles were thick enough that there was little brush to wade through as I pushed deep enough into the forest to get away from the sound of traffic on the small country lane I had been riding.

More than ever, it was hard to quit riding. It was a windless, cool evening on a quiet country road, barely one-lane wide. My heart wanted to continue all the way to Stockholm, 60 miles further, and I heard no objections from my legs, just my better sense. What would I do arriving in Stockholm at two a.m. There was light enough to do it, though someone told me the other day that it almost gets dark at two a.m. now, at least for a moment before it starts getting lighter. Among other things, this trip will be remembered as the trip I never saw a sun rise or sun set, just that dangling orange orb just above the horizon at midnight at the Nordkapp on the Solstice.

It will also be remembered for all the tunnels of Norway. I finally got my hands on the book that details them all--over 700. Bicycles are banned from about a quarter of them, mostly in the southern part of the country where there is more traffic and more options of getting around them. Of the 60 or so I went through, I only had to break the law once. I will particularly remember how cold the tunnels could be, and how I had to debate whether to stop and put on a jacket before I entered each. If it was less than quarter mile long and I only needed to spend a minute or two in their deep freeze, I didn't want to bother to stop. It wasn't just one stop, as there'd be another when I emerged from the tunnel to remove the wrap. If I was really warmed up, and knew that I had warmth awaiting me when I exited the tunnel, I might raise the distance to half a mile or more.

I never saw ice in a tunnel, but the temperature often felt very close to freezing. Two days ago when I took a tour of the copper mine in Falun there were warnings that the temperature was 43 degrees at the bottom of the mine shaft we would descend. The tour lasted an hour and the cold never penetrated like that of those tunnels. There were no miners to be seen, as the mine had closed down in 1992 after over 1,000 years of operation. It was such an important part of the Swedish economy that it was a tradition for the King of Sweden to pay it a visit. For many years an army regiment was stationed in Falun to guard it.

As I approach the greatest concentration of people I will have encountered in the past 3,000 miles, the scavenging along the road has intensified. I found six water bottles in one stretch that recently hosted a bicycle race. I have more water bottles than I need, here and at home, but I can never resist more, especially when they are of high profile European racing teams. The prize was a Farm Frites bottle, a team that competes in the Tour de France. Several of the bottles had high-tech caps new to me. I also found an allen wrench in the same stretch. Elsewhere I found a nine-dollar Swedish girly magazine. Not all were blonds.

As my tour winds down, I can begin looking forward to the next one, not only to be back on the road, but also for the opportunity to relive this one. I am eager to find out what I will remember most. Whenever I set out on a new tour, I have a rush of memories of my most recent tour, the latest and freshest batch just waiting to be perused. I spend so much time dwelling on tours past as I'm riding, I'm not always aware of the uniqueness of my present circumstances. And also as I'm living it, so fully immersed in a country and culture different from my own, some things become so commonplace I no longer take note of them. I hardly pay attention to the odd sight of cross-country skiers on wheels along the highway training, poling along, at first a most incongruous sight that had me shaking my head in wonderment. I know I'll think back with great fondness during all future tours at not having to race a setting sun to find a place to camp or to be in any particular rush to get started in the morning to maximize the daylight. Twenty-four hours of light is an unimaginable luxury. I'll fondly recall fish paste on Wasa crackers and Norway's banana-mango yogurt. When food seems expensive, I can remember the $13 hamburger in the Arctic of Norway, knowing it could be worse.

I'm still trying to negotiate my way into downtown Stockholm. I have to stop every 15 or 20 minutes to study the map. A police officer just told me about a bike path that follows the nearby train tracks that will lead me a good ways into town. And then I'll have the challenge of finding one of the six hostels Lonely Planet recommends. Hopefully I'll end up at one with Internet. If not, I can come back here if its not too complicated, as there are four computers that people can be on for 15 minutes, or longer if no one is waiting.

I'm also hoping to find a sports bar to watch the Tour de France. The last three hours of it are broadcast live every afternoon on some cable channel. And there will be plenty to see in Stockholm the next four days. There are also worthy sites I can bicycle to within 15 or 20 miles. I'm especially looking forward to Sunday morning when no one will be out and the town will be mine to explore. I ought to know it well by then.

It has been a pleasure to be able to share this experience almost on a daily basis thanks to the Internet. I look forward to finding a computer to be able to unleash all those thoughts that have been whirling through my head all day on the bike. It has been impossible to be lonely with so much to occupy my thought. This has been my first Internet tour. It has greatly enhanced the experience, concentrating my thoughts, knowing I'll have them chance to type them out rather than jot them down in a journal. In past tours of more than a month I was lucky to get any mail along the way. Those occasions were always a highlight. I can well remember receiving three letters in Kathmandu after not having had any in over a month since Calcutta. I was looking forward to that mail for weeks. Now I can hear from friends on a daily basis.

Later, George

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